Otaru pt 1 – daytime wanderings (mostly food)

Pretty sure I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I have a bit of a soft spot for small towns. Not sure how I’d go living in one for a long time, but they sure are lovely places to visit. One of my most favourite places in Japan was a small rural town: Otaru is located somewhere west of Sapporo, in Hokkaido, and we visited on February 8th.

Otaru is only about half an hour from Sapporo by train. Things like this amaze me because sometimes it takes over half an hour to get from one part of Brisbane to another by train – on one train line, travelling through the same city!

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eating my way through Launceston

So now it’s been three weeks since I first set foot in Launceston, and here I am still trying to get through writing about everything I want to write about my visit… Life has been busy, but perhaps it’s also a good reflection on my holiday if I’m still in the process of drifting down from it.

One of the things I was weirdly excited about when I returned home was being able to eat Weet-Bix for breakfast again. I mean, I could have eaten Weet-Bix during my holiday – it would’ve been as simple as walking to a shop and buying some – but there was so much other food; and even when I was just staying at my uncle and aunty’s place, they always had toast for brekkie, so I went along with that to save them the inconvenience of keeping cereal they don’t eat.

That was actually a bit of an unexpected/unplanned tangent. Maybe that was coz of the conversation I had with my assistant/student on Saturday about how she was looking forward to eating Weet-Bix the next morning after finishing the 40-Hour Famine… Well, either way, I can’t remember what I was going to write originally, except that it was supposed to lead into this post about food I ate on my holiday… I guess that’ll do.

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bite size

Anyone who has ever had a meal with me will surely know that I am a slow eater. I know very few people who eat as slowly as I do (maybe only one other person? or two?) Recent conversations, over the last few weeks, have led me to wonder about the origins of this quirk, and to really analyse my penchant for slow eating.

Often I hear people say that eating slowly is a good thing because it gives yourself time to realise when you’re full, and hence not overeat. This might be well and true, but I don’t consciously eat slowly – it’s not a purposeful decision that I’ve made in order to attain some sort of benefit. In fact, I generally feel like I actually eat at a reasonable pace, and perhaps everyone else just eats too quickly, causing me to become an outlier on this bell-curve, and making it seem like I eat really slowly.

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the virtues of being hungry

I like food. I like eating. They’re pretty standard things to like, I know.

At times, however, I also like feeling hungry. Yes, you read that correctly.

It’s logical, though, if you think about it. Feeling hungry is sort of an indication that you need to eat, which makes me anticipate food and eating. Feeling hungry can also just be an indication that you’re dehydrated. But, you know, most food has some liquid content…

Hunger tells me that I’ve sufficiently digested my last meal, and I’m now ready for my next one (or maybe just a snack). Hunger is a way for me to reassure myself that I haven’t really been overeating that much (I probably agonise over this a lot more than people think I do).

Of course, I’m not talking about real, painful starvation-type hunger here – I’m lucky enough to live somewhere where I have easy access to food 24/7 – but I’m talking more about that hunger that’s anything from “feeling peckish” to that gnawing hunger that distracts you from everything else that you’re meant to be doing. I think hunger, in this context, is a good thing.

Most days, I start work around 8am, and I’m usually hungry by about 10am (I would’ve had breakfast by about 6:30am). There was a point when this happened so predictably that I could guess (with some accuracy) when it was approximately 10am just based on when I started feeling hungry (and by judging the severity of my hunger). It’s a marvellous thing, to feel hungry.

I don’t mean to tell people to starve themselves. I’m just trying to encourage people to appreciate different perspectives on hunger.

Waking up hungry (in the morning) is probably best. If it’s the week-end or I have a day off, I like to lie in bed for a few minutes more, just enjoying that sort of gentle, murmuring hunger, and thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast. It’s great. I’m hoping that I can wake up hungry tomorrow, but tonight I’ve had a burger and a donut, as well as a beer, so who knows – I could still be trying to digest that come the morning.

read vs write

I had a bit of a random thought the other day about reading and writing. I feel like I’ve written a post about this before, but I can’t seem to find it (not that I looked very hard), so please excuse me if you’ve heard this all before. (*Tangent Alert* It’s kind of like when you’ve told a story so many times to so many different people that you forget who you have and haven’t told, and then you kind of have to decide whether or not you want to go ahead and risk re-telling a story that people have already heard before. I know a few people who do this quite a bit, but they’re such fun to talk to, I usually don’t mind, or I’ll just subtly hint that that story sounds familiar…)

I had a conversation with a friend quite some time ago about the relationship between the love of reading and the love of writing. This particular friend loves to read, and reads a lot. I’m pretty much the same. However, she does not like to write, whereas I clearly love to write (I’d assume most people who write blogs like writing too). At the time, I remember thinking this was a bit odd, but I kind of just accepted it because, you know, “each to their own” and whatnot.

In recent weeks, while discovering new food blogs, and watching cooking shows like “MasterChef” and “Everyday Gourmet” and a variety of foodie shows on SBS, I had a thought that maybe the reading/writing relationship could be analogous to the eating/cooking relationship. Eating and reading both feed the soul. Cooking and writing can be such rewarding experiences that enrich the lives of those who undertake these tasks.

If someone likes to eat, and they’ve had delicious meals prepared for them all their life, I’d think it’d be reasonable for them to be inspired to learn to cook and create tastey dishes of their own. Likewise, if someone likes to read, it would not be out of place for them to be inspired to write – right?

I also reckon that people who love to write would also love reading; just as people who love to cook would certainly love to eat. I’ve never met someone who disproves this, but feel free to be the first. So much of cooking is tasting the components of the dish as you prepare it, ensuring everything is balanced, and the flavours are right. So much of writing is re-reading and editing your sentences so that the text flows as it’s intended. It’s hard for me to imagine someone who loves to write but detests reading (it makes me shudder just to think that anyone might detest reading at all, irrespective of their feelings toward writing).

The more I thought about this, the more I realised that the analogy could be expanded to include so many other things. For example, most human beings like music of some variety, but not everyone has an inclination toward singing or playing musical instruments. We can appreciate music (which also feeds the soul, by the way) without having an urge to sing or pick up a guitar or take up piano lessons. However, I don’t think it’s possible for a musician to not like listening to music. The analogy works, right? And it can probably be applied to most performing arts, and art art like paintings and sketches and whatnot.

Perhaps what determines whether you like both the process and the end-product, or whether you appreciate the end-product with minimal interest in the process – perhaps what it all boils down to is inspiration. It just depends on whether or not you reach that magical level of inspiration, where you’re moved to take action. (Sometimes I feel like I’m pretty easily inspired, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also means there are a lot of things that I want to do.) I could hypothesise that it might also come down to natural talent or affinity, but things like writing, cooking, drawing, etc can all be practised and perfected over time (although generally people seem to prefer doing things that they’re naturally good at).

One last thing – I think reading makes one’s writing better, and writing can improve one’s appreciation of reading. Likewise, eating can help improve one’s cooking, and cooking is likely to enhance the eating experience. Each pair works synergistically.

polarising foods

From my vast experience both eating and talking about food, I’ve noticed that there are certain foods that seem to polarise opinion: you either have it one way or the other, or maybe not at all.

What prompted me to think about this was a certain lunchtime conversation at work last week. The impetus for this conversation was none other than the humble avocado, a simple fruit with neither a very strong aroma or taste. Actually, it is perhaps this very quality that gives it the scope necessary for dividing opinion. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but I think someone must have been eating something with avocado in it (which was savoury), which prompted one colleague to comment that avocado is much better with sweet accompaniments (e.g. honey). This, in turn, triggered a rather passionate discussion about why avocado is better in sweet/savoury contexts – an almost too passionate discussion, considering what we were talking about.

So, basically, some people like strongly prefer avocado with honey and/or sugar, or with condensed milk, but the other half of the table seemed to think this was odd, and would rather have it in a salad or on toast or something. And thus a line was drawn. As for myself, I don’t mind it either way. I grew up eating avocado with honey and a sprinkling of raw sugar – sometimes on toast, sometimes just the avocado, honey and sugar. When I discovered how amazing avocado on toast drizzled with sweetened condensed milk was (despite how messy it is to eat), honey lost pole position. (Granted, this particular revelation came about from a recommendation to improve the condensed-milk-on-toast experience rather than with a view to enhancing the avocado-on-toast experience.)

I was never really a fan of avocado in savoury sandwiches (toasted or not), so at this point I thought that that was it – avocado on toast surely couldn’t get better than that. Well, no, apparently it can. Last year I discovered, via a website that a regretfully cannot remember the name or address of, the delicious simplicity of avocado on toast with lemon juice and cracked pepper. This also has the added benefit of not having as many calories and hence as much guilt as is associated with excessive condensed milk consumption. It is also easy to prepare and not as messy to eat. This is now my preferred option.

I really did not expect to write three paragraphs about avocado, but when I think about it, I don’t know how I expected to write any less than three paragraphs about it. Nevertheless, let’s move on. Another fruit that gets thrown around in the sweet vs savoury debate is pineapple. The usual point of contention here is whether it is acceptable to have pineapple on pizza, and there seem to be only two sides to this. No elaboration needed (but, personally, I don’t like pineapple on its own – I’d rather it were on a pizza or in a cake; just cooked somehow).

Another one that has popped up in recent memory is that of crustaceans, especially crabs and prawns. The issue here, however, is not about taste. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but apparently I’m not the only one who believes that the effort-to-reward ratio for eating (hard-shelled) crab is simply not worth it. Prawns have a similar issue, but not as bad – at least the shell-to-meat ratio is more favourable, and it generally requires less effort to eat prawns than to eat crabs. In either case, I’d prefer to be able to eat the shell: soft-shelled crab, and prawns cooked in a way that renders the shell crispily edible. (Yeah, “crispily” is probably not a real word, but it will have to do for now.)

There are, of course, lots of other foods that people just do not sit on the fence about, and, as much as I would like to, I could not possibly go through them all. Examples include oysters, licorice, durian, and raw tomato (I can’t remember specifics, but I feel like raw tomato is one of those things that a lot of people have told me that they absolutely refuse to eat). If you have some examples of your own, you’re more than welcome to share!